The Cat O’ Nine Tails (Limited Edition) [4K Ultra]
(James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, et al / 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray / NR / (1971) 2021 / Arrow Films - MVD Visual)
Overview: A newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company’s experimental, top-secret research projects and in so doing, both become targets of the killer.
Blu-ray Verdict: Simply put, The Cat O’ Nine Tails is Dario Argento’s difficult second movie, as they say in the business. This is the one that had to follow up his genre-defining debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
It is a movie that many fans (and the director himself apparently) think is unsubstantial. Certainly it is relatively weak when set alongside Crystal Plumage, but when it is considered as a film in its own right and directly compared to other early 70’s gialli, it is actually pretty good.
The story basically involves a couple of amateur sleuths – a journalist and blind ex-newsman - who get embroiled in a series of murders that surround a genetics institute.
Plot wise, the film is very far fetched where events and character actions do not exactly make logical sense a lot of the time. This is a common feature of giallo cinema, but it is something that viewers unfamiliar with the genre might find a little off putting.
If you can accept this and roll with it you will find that Cat O’ Nine Tails is a good exercise in suspense film-making. Although it is fair to say that the story compares quite badly in comparison with the classic giallo twist-in-the-tail narrative of Crystal Plumage; although it is serviceable enough.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, such as Umberto Lenzi or Sergio Martino, Argento did not incorporate graphic violence in his early gialli. Sure, there are murders here that are quite disturbing but it is not exactly a blood bath.
What Argento does show, however, is a clear understanding of how to generate suspense. There are some very tense, well handled scenes such as the poisoned milk set-piece, the sequence in the mausoleum and the climatic rooftop fight.
He is helped in creating this kind of atmosphere by the soundtrack provided by Ennio Morricone. It is a nice dark piece of work with a memorable main theme, not as good as his work on Crystal Plumage but superior to his subsequent score for Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
Like that latter film, Cat O’ Nine Tails has a more experimental approach than his debut movie. Argento incorporates odd editing techniques where we see quick flashes of events before they actually happen.
This disorientating approach helps create a slightly mad, off-kilter atmosphere. We are actively encouraged to identify with the killer in this film, as the various POV shots and the huge close-ups of their retina attest.
Overall, this is not the best looking movie that Argento has directed but it is still very accomplished. The cinematography is good and the interior decor is, at times, insane – check out Bianca Merusis wallpaper as it is garishly appalling in a way that only early 70s décor can be!
The acting here is pretty decent and James Franciscus and Karl Malden lead the cast well enough, and there are some interesting performances from other supporting cast members - most notably Cinzia De Carolis as the little girl Lori, Horst Frank as the homosexual Dr. Braun and Rada Rassimov as Dr. Calabresis doomed lover Bianca.
As is typical in movies from Argentos golden period, and unlike other gialli of the time, there is a distinct lack of eye-candy, but this is not a criticism, far from it, just an observation.
It is interesting how disinterested he appeared to view the sex side of things in his classic gialli when you weigh it up against the somewhat dubious relish he seems to give it in his latter (inferior) thrillers.
I think this film has definitely been unfairly maligned for either not being as good as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage or for not containing sufficient sex and violence.
While it is true that it is restrained compared to many of its contemporaries, it is a better film than most of them because its mystery is compelling enough and its a genuinely tense affair a lot of the time.
Not only that, but this movie has one of the most ambiguous and downbeat endings in any gialli I have seen, so lets just say that you really are not too sure about the well-being of certain cast members at the end.
In closing, if you are a fan of either giallo cinema, the work of Dario Argento or cult Italian cinema in general then I would strongly recommend seeking this one out. It is ultimately a superior, if relatively restrained, slice of giallo mayhem from the master of the genre. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
New 4K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films
4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
Audio commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman
Nine Lives, an interview with co-writer/director Dario Argento
The Writer O’ Many Tales, an interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
Child Star, an interview with actress Cinzia De Carolis
Giallo in Turin, an interview with production manager Angelo Iacono
Script pages for the lost original ending, translated into English for the first time
Original Italian, international and US theatrical trailers
Illustrated collectors booklet featuring an original essay on the film by Dario Argento, and writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes
Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Obviously Creative
Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction art cards
Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring originally and newly commissioned artwork by Obviously Creative